Final hearing on copper-nickel mine draws 1,500 in St. Paul

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The final public hearing concerning the environmental review of a plan to start the state's first copper-nickel mine drew a huge crowd Tuesday night, the Pioneer Press reports.

Comments were evenly split between proponents and detractors of the PolyMet project in the NorthMet complex, the paper says. One supporter said the project is based on sound science and it's time to proceed with the permitting process, while an opponent asked who would pay for the potential pollution associated with it.

KARE 11 pegged the attendance of the hearing at about 2,000, while the Pioneer Press says about 1,500 were there.

The Mesabi Daily News says a large contingent of supporters from the Iron Range and Duluth came to support the proposal.

“These guys are here because the Iron Range, the state of Minnesota and the nation need PolyMet,” said Minnesota State Building Trades President Harry Melander.

The Pioneer Press said speakers each got three minutes to state their case at the hearing, and some of their comments were greeted by cheers while others were met by jeers.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Forest Service hosted the meetings in order to get input from the public on a 2,200 page "Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement" that was released last month. Previous meetings drew about 1,000 in Duluth and 650 in Aurora.

PolyMet, which is based in Canada, wants to mine copper, nickel and precious metals over a 20-year period at a site near Babbitt in northeastern Minnesota, and start a processing site near of Hoyt Lakes. Supporters say the project would yield huge economic benefits in the region, since PolyMet says it would invest $650 million and generate 300-360 jobs over the two decades.

Opponents fear the negative impact the operation might have on the environment, including long-lasting water pollution.

Answering detractors' fears, PolyMet provided fact sheets to attendees of the Tuesday meeting, KSTP says.

DNR officials Tuesday said they were still studying water-flow data, the Pioneer Press says. Last week, new data emerged that raised questions about a previous analysis of how the nearby Partridge River flows.

The public comment period on the impact statement ends March 13. DNR officials say about 10,000 comments have been received so far, the Pioneer Press says.

PolyMet needs about 21 permits for the copper-nickel mining project to move forward, KARE 11 says.

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